Trials and Tribulations

by Allison Wilbur on October 5, 2013

I have heard a lot of talk lately about how important it is to fail; that all successful innovators have to be willing to fail. But on the failure days, it feels a bit discouraging. As we have progressed with our exhibits for Quilt for Change, we have met with many challenges, and even some “failures.” There was the exhibit planned for the Senate building in Washington DC that was cancelled thanks to Snowmaggedon, the quilt lost in a house fire the day before it was shipped to us, the quilt lost in the mail for months which then turned up on the last possible day to make it into the exhibit only to then be excluded from the United Nations Geneva exhibit because it contained images of women in burkas. We have weathered even more devastating losses – four quilts were stolen from an exhibit hall in Zurich, Switzerland. Most recently, with the Solar Sister exhibit opening in Geneva the Cultural Committee at the United Nations asked that we not display one of the quilts which had a religious symbol in it.

When faced with these setbacks we often ride a roller coaster of emotions – shock, anger, frustration, despair. We try and focus on our inspiration for the exhibits – to help raise awareness of the issues faced by women around the world struggling to make a better lives for themselves under truly challenging conditions. We have been buoyed by the spirit and energy of the artists who have contributed work to the exhibits whose unflagging support has gotten us through many a difficult day. We try and learn from our setbacks, to improve the process for future exhibits. And we focus on the good we have been able to do – to bring women’s voices and women’s issues to the world stage. Quilt for Change has sponsored three exhibits at the United Nations in Geneva, one at the UN in New York, and the exhibits have been displayed at several prestigious quilt festivals in the US including the Mancuso quilt festivals, the Houston International Quilt Festival and the Machine Quilters Expo East.

Unfortunately, we have met another setback. The Solar Sister exhibit was not chosen for the Houston International Quilt festival this fall, an especially disappointing decision because we hope to use the exhibit to inspire quilt guilds across the country to use the funds from their raffle quilts to sponsor a Solar Sister entrepreneur – and this important venue would have helped us access a huge number of quilters. So we are riding our roller coaster of emotions and are trying to move ourselves beyond the disappointment and despair phase. Already we are working on option two – approaching our Rhode Island Congressman about sponsoring an exhibit in Washington DC (though needless to say, there is NO hope for that at the moment!!). Fortunately Solar Sister is already lined up to travel with the Mancuso Festivals from March 2014 to February 2015. And we will work to line up other venues in the future, as we design each challenge to be evergreen and to tour for as long as possible. If you have any leads or suggestions, please do not hesitate to let us know.

Personally, this is a challenging time for Dick and me. We are a typical sandwich generation, with teenage sons and aging parents living with us at home. My mother’s Alzheimer’s is very advanced and she recently went into a nursing home as her health is failing. Dick has had to relocate to Washington to return to the State Department while the rest of us stay in Rhode Island so that our middle son can finish his senior year here and we can continue to care for my parents. This has left us with serious time and energy constraints, so please be patient if we don’t respond quickly to your communications. But do know that our connection with you is very important and that we value your contributions to Quilt for Change. You provide the creative energy that makes what we do possible.

So, time to dust ourselves off, pick ourselves up and get back to work. And if you would put your thinking caps on, pull out your contact lists and send us some ideas for venues and quilt shows, that would be great. Working together, we can spread the word!

Naomi October 5, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Have you contacted the sponsors of the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show? It is a one-day event, but it is the largest outdoor quilt show in the world and attracts a large crowd from around the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Their website is . Jeanette Pilak is their Executive Director ( ).

Laura Gottlieb October 17, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Failures (especially of imagination) and setbacks ARE hard to accept. But hang in there! What you’re doing is important work: even the objections to showing some of these amazing works reveal their impact (and perhaps men’s fear of women?). I admire you for creating, organizing, and carrying on in the face of these difficulties AND in the face of family health issues and disruptions.
Don’t give up, but be patient with yourself, and do only what you can.

Joan Blade Johnson October 17, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Allison…don’t be discouraged…because I believe that your vision “to help raise awareness of the issues faced by women around the world struggling to make a better lives for themselves under truly challenging conditions”…is one that can’t be realized quickly. Look how much you’ve increased awareness already…you have inspired me more than you know. It takes many, many small steps, sister…and you are doing just that!

Rose Legge October 23, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Life is like that, isn’t it? We do our best in all our different roles as artists, family members, citizens . . . and encounter trials and heartaches anyway. Does it mean we’re on the wrong track? No, not at all; it means we live in an imperfect world and imperfect things happen.
My favorite Christmas movie is “It’s a Wonderful Life”, because I see us being hurt just like poor George, but I also think good things are ahead for those who keep fighting the good fight.
Don’t give up, Allison. Wrap your arms around yourself and give yourself a big hug today, because I can’t reach you from here!

Diana ferguson February 3, 2014 at 6:25 pm

What you do is important! Thank you.

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